Cathi Ho Schar
University of Hawaii at Manoa
This paper reflects on the structure of a research-based fourth year undergraduate design studio that explored localized and decentralized models for energy, waste, and food systems for the island of Oahu, connecting students to three of the six goals established by the Aloha + Challenge, a statewide commitment to achieving Hawaiʻi’s sustainability goals. These goals, 70% clean energy, 20-30% locally grown food, and 70% waste reduction were explored in partnership with Grove Farm, a large privately owned company focused on sustainable community development, the City and County of Honolulu Environmental Services Department, and the State of Hawaiʻi Department of Agriculture. These partnerships provided students with a systems based perspective on Oahu’s resource streams and initiatives. The studio incorporated four different projects at different scales, moving from macro to micro to understand resources at island, neighborhood, block, and dwelling scales. First, students mapped out islandwide networks for energy production and distribution, waste management, and food systems. They also visited key sites including the Covanta energy-to-waste plant, the Nanakuli landfill, and the island’s largest aquaponics farm, representing the current centralized model. At each scale, students developed hybrid typologies aimed at localizing and community-sizing these resources to reduce distribution inefficiencies and costs. These new typologies, developed in concert with agency partners, included a solar chicken or fish farm, recycling community center, and greenhouse dwelling, all acting as integrated components within a self sufficient neighborhood. Working with multiple streams at multiple scales allowed students a broad introduction to the research areas surrounding carbon management, cost of living, and fundamental island sustainability and resilience. The studio prompted two students, under the mentorship of the instructor, to apply for an undergraduate research opportunity (URO) grant to extend their work. Their project, “Distributive Agriculture: Designing for a Neighborhood-based Food Economy” received $9,092 in funding, and the URO Award of Merit at the Undergraduate Showcase upon completion, both firsts for the School of Architecture. The larger deliverable from this studio was not the final design products, but the foundation it provided for students to pursue independent research opportunities. Reflecting on this, the studio offers a model for research prep, different from thesis prep which aligns students with their own interests, instead, aligning students to the research interests of private companies, the city, and state. This orientation to broader alignment rather than focus offers an alternative approach to studio-based research. In closing, this paper will look at alignment within the research tracks established across five academic programs, to explore how our curricula connects course-driven research with growing demand.